Tuesday, January 20, 2015

analysis | Seeing Past Glass: What Google’s withdrawl of its headset means for its future

Google’s recent decision to withdraw Google Glass has drawn an immediate, almost visceral reaction from both Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Finally, they proclaim, Google has come to its senses! It’s grown up at last; time to put away the balloons and the toy cars, and move on to the things that actually matter!

Make no mistake, Google Glass in its current iteration has failed to become a tenable product, something no amount of marketing spin can cover. If Glass really was doing brisk business, Google would be beside themselves singing the praises of the just-released second generation. That the wearable computer was pulled from the market altogether without so much as a projected date indicates its failure to resonate with consumers.

But the failure of Glass does not mean the company is cubbyholed in the same way Blackberry has been unable to move beyond making mobile handsets. Rather, it is the inevitable result of Google’s “leap without looking” approach, where the game is not necessarily to make the best or the most polished product, but to capitalise on first mover advantages…then figure everything else out, including how if it prints money. Google Search, after all, began life as a pageranking research product until someone realised just how many zeros advertisers were willing to tack onto a cheque in exchange for targeted advertising.

This approach couldn’t be any different from their traditional rivals at Apple. While the Cupertino based technology giant keeps products under wraps for years, testing, redoing, perfecting, and grandly unveiling a highly polished, finished product, Google favours a scattershot approach, floating products to the market to “see what sticks”; ruthlessly killing things that don’t make money or otherwise fail.

While this would send most investors running for the hills, the Mountain View company has an uncanny ability to “sniff” out good investments. Google has historically supplemented itself by making several very smart acquisitions in key areas, nurturing them until they became industry powerhouses: it was prescient enough to buy YouTube near the start of the video sharing revolution, and made an equally prophetic acquisition of a small software startup called Android, Inc.

Most outsiders fail to realise the inherent danger in sticking to core strengths. The obvious cost of playing it safe is missing out on the next big thing. Intel was so wrapped up in its indomitable chokehold of the desktop and laptop market it completely missed the mobile revolution, and now finds itself fending off Qualcomm, VIA, Texas Instruments, and a horde of other eager competitors, some of whom have even begun to encroach on Intel’s traditional leadership in laptops and desktops.

“Failures” like Google Glass are the necessary price of keeping ahead. While some of Google's products may be tone-deaf and poorly timed, the spirit of “giving it a go” remains ingrained in the corporate culture and should be insulated from the fickleness of investors. There is no harm in throwing things against the wall when you have the finances of a developing nation, and an idea need only work once to be successful.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

analysis | The brand of your glasses isn’t meant to influence others. It’s meant to influence you.

Try this the next time you’re on a subway, a bus, or any place filled with lots of people. See if you can determine the brand of glasses someone is wearing before they realize you’re staring and start calling for the police.

Notice the brand yet? It shouldn’t take any longer than a couple of seconds to determine: most frames have the brand plastered along the side.

If your face is considered the world’s window to your soul, then glasses are the window frame in this increasingly torturous analogy. Yet in spite of its visibility, most people don’t seem at all bothered about wearing a designer’s logo on the side of their face.

The truly observant (or perhaps the truly obsessive) will notice that while branding becomes very prominent for most midrange glasses, neither economical frames nor expensive frames carry branding along the sides.

In spite of outwards appearances, the purpose of the branding is not to advertise your affinity for the brand to others, but to advertise the glasses to you.


A brand at its most basic is a simple way of communicating a complex set of ideas already ingrained in the consumer through extensive marketing.

The brand is a trigger that helps recall the value-added benefits of the company’s marketing message in addition to the immediate utility of the product. Put simply, it reminds you that you’re not just buying a mere cup of coffee, dear consumer, you’re buying the trendy cosmopolitan lifestyle that only the best Arabica, picked by smiling, happy farmers and lovingly batch-roasted by a (possibly bearded) barista named Grant, can provide in a 10% post-consumer recycled cup…whatever that all means.

Conversely, brands help a consumer make a purchase with incomplete information. Rather than needing an intimate knowledge of operating systems, software packages, hardware configurations, and compatibility issues, people buy an Apple computer because the brand is famous for having simple, modern, sophisticated machines with end-to-end support. A brand helps distill what would otherwise be a complex decision into something very simple.

The glasses market is an excellent example of incomplete purchasing information: Even though a pair of glasses will be worn every day from morning to night, often for several years, most people don’t know—and oftentimes don’t need to know—the differences in materials, designs, durability, and workmanship.


People that buy glasses largely fall into three categories: utilitarian buyers prioritise cost before all other considerations, midrange buyers balance what they are willing to spend with what they want, and high-end specialty buyers make purchasing decisions on other, often aesthetic, factors.

Most buyers fall into the midrange category: A fresh prescription means new glasses as soon as possible, and the buyer must temper “what looks good” with “what can I afford.” Interestingly, the midrange market demonstrates inelastic demand relative to income, partially due to immediate utility. Translation: a richer customer may not take some time to shop around for the best set of eyeglasses because the customer kind of needs them to see. This presents a conundrum: He must make an immediate, informed decision on a product likely to be kept for several years, but has limited knowledge on what makes a “good” pair of glasses aside from how they look and feel.

The brands themselves, however, are a smokescreen: most glasses sold today are all made by the same gargantuan company. They’re not actually “Prada” glasses, they’re made by Luxottica but licensed to carry the name of Prada. It’s not just for show, though; if everything was sold as “Luxottica,” the differences might be difficult to note, but brands help emphasise these differences and draw subconscious associations with the consumer (remember, it’s not just the product, it’s the lifestyle).

All this changes when considering the utilitarian buyer and the high end buyer. Utilitarian buyers make a decision based purely on cost above all else, and won't respond to a brand. Beyond a consideration of what additional features are needed for purpose, the purchase decision is influenced solely by price. Fashion-centric buyers are likely to shop around before committing to a purchasing decision because their decision is made based on other attributes: the style and quality of the frame, the type and design, the workmanship, the materials, and the durability. Glasses marketed in both categories reflect this: they are not labeled with the brand because they are expected to sell based on other attributes other than the brand. With these consumers, the brand loses its relevance because the purchasing decision is made based on other factors. Both these consumers have the luxury of shopping around, whether the goal is to to save money or to find fashionable frames.

The brand is a particularly powerful form of marketing. It tells the consumer where the product sits in relation to its competitors. It serves as a trigger for the brand’s attributes. It is a way of communicating the added value to the consumer if only you bought this wonderful product. But it is in a relatively homogenized market where consumers have limited knowledge, like that of eyeglasses, where brands are at their most effective. You’re not just buying glasses. You’re buying a new lifestyle.